“When beggars die, there are no comets seen, the heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes.” So says the renowned legal luminary, Chief Rotimi Williams.
The date was 27th day of February, 2003 and the venue was St. Theresa’s Cathedral Abakaliki. The event was the Funeral Rites of Rev. Fr. Raymond IfeanyichukwuEzeonu (1943 – 2003). As early as 7:00a.m., mourners from all walks and works of life had converged to pay their last respect.
Raymond IfeanyichukwuEzeonu is a kind of person who would never have asked for a tribute, but undoubtedly he deserves this and more tributes to come. A mammoth crowd numbering above 5000 had come to catch the last glimpse of the man who beamed with smiles even as he laid in state. As the wailing sirens blazed at about 8:30a.m., the crowd broke loose with everyone jostling for a vintage position to see his remains and say the final Farewell ‘Adieu!’ to their beloved priest. Dressed in full priestly regalia, Fr. Ray’s face still wore a beautiful smile as he rested in his casket.
The Funeral rites which lasted for about three hours were attended by the clergy and laity of Abakaliki diocese and Ora-Eri, friends and families, benefactors and benefactresses. The high points of the event were the soul-touching and moving funeral orations by the Presbytery of the Catholic Diocese of Abakaliki; the Ezeonu family, the twins, the Ora-Eri Development Union Abakaliki branch, etc. Tears rained as the crowd could not but wailed as his legacies were hailed. The surging mourners went beserk when the body was eventually lowered down the grave and dust to dust performed. His former parishioners in their collective dirge/elegy sang “Yabunaokwuaburugoeziokwunaanyiagaghi ahu giozo Rev. Fr. Raymond EZEONU!” They noted that they will never forget his kind and humane disposition especially to the poorest of the poor.” Indeed, Rev. Fr. Raymond Ezeonu was a life sacrificed on the Altar of the poor and the needy.
So sad he is gone from our sight. Priests like him are difficult to replace. It is to his eternal credit that many who might never have had the chance to exist lived; those who could not have gone to school were educated and trained and are now occupying key positions or holding important positions in the society. His beneficiaries include but not limited to academic gurus, medical doctors, engineers, lawyers, technocrats and administrators, and so on. He exposed timid and poor people to the light of education based on his conviction that education is an end in itself. He believed and taught that human beings need formal education for self-fulfillment, self-actualization and self- realization.
Ifeanyichukwu Raymond Ezeonu, a native of Ora-Eri in Aguata L.G.A. of Anambra State, was born on the 27th day of March, 1943 at Abakaliki as the first son of his parents and the third of nine children. His parents descended from the Nri dynasty. He went through the informal and all formal stages of education. Against all odds, he was eventually ordained a Catholic Priest on the eighth (8th) day of April, 1972 at the age of 29. On Sunday, the 26th day of January, 2003 he transcended into Life after life at the age of sixty (60) after spending 31 years in the Lord’s Vineyard.
It seemed that Fr. Ray Ezeonu had a premonition that he would be joining his creator that Sunday. He stunned the closest people to him by giving them parting gifts. He visited the Legionaries of St. Theresa’s Cathedral Abakaliki to encourage them to keep alive their devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. He spoke of the need for him to go and rest having exhausted himself. He enjoined them to spread the Marian Devotion by establishing the Legion of Mary in all the Parishes and Chaplaincies of the Diocese. He emphasized his belief in the Resurrection of the dead and Life everlasting. He was quoted as saying: “I have a strong conviction in life after death. Death is nothing but an inevitable transition to a new form of life… Heaven is an abode of joy and with the passing of each moment in a man’s life, he moves closer to it.” With this notice of his death, he asked the legionaries to continue to serve as service to humanity is a spring of internal joy.” With these words, he announced it was the time of his departure but they did not understand him until the news sad news of his death spread like harmatan fire few hours later in the day.
He was at his usual visits to his friends (the poor and needy) and family when he gave up the ghost. He had had the last launch at his father’s house at No. 34 Ogoja Road and bid his siblings farewell. On his way back to the Cathedral, he drove to heaven.
In the words of St. Paul in his Second Letter to Timothy (4: 6-8, 16-1), Fr. Raymond Ezeonu could have said: “Beloved: I am already on the point of being sacrificed; the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing…”
January 26, 2020 marks the 17th anniversary of the demise of my spiritual hero and father, a priest who gave his life for the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ; a humble and prayerful man; a missionary who portrayed the good image of Christ to the Heathen; a man whose generous and detached life earned him FadaUmuOgbenye – Father of the Poor, a Bridge-Builder; the Savior of Twins in Ebonyi State; a man that is worthy of emulation, Reverend Fada Raymond IfeanyichukwuEzeonu.
Friends of Reverend Father Raymond IfeanyichukwuEzeonu (FORFRIE) hope to lovingly help organize a memorial Mass and Lectures at St. Theresa’s Cathedral Abakaliki for the 15th anniversary of Father Ezeonu’s death come 26th day of January, 2020. The theme is: “His works continue. His love endures.”
Rest in Perfect Peace Nwokeoma! OmeNtanumeruEchile, Eka Atsu MmeeNwokeoma! Jokwaa! You can never die. You Live on in us!